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US Defence Secy to visit India to strengthen defence cooperation

US Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd J Austin to visit India in March (IANS)

US Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd J Austin, is scheduled to visit India from March 19 to March 21 to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation. It will be the first high-level visit by someone from the US after Joe Biden took over as the President on January 20.

During his visit, Austin is expected to meet Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other senior dignitaries in the government. The visit will take place a week after the first ever Indo-Pacific Quad summit on Friday, which will be attended virtually by the heads of states of India, the US, Australia and Japan.

The US Defence Secretary will also visit Japan and South Korea.

"Both sides are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Discussions regarding defence cooperation would also focus on how both countries could consolidate military-to-military cooperation and defence trade and industry cooperation.

Austin's visit to India as part of his first overseas travel emphasises the strength of India-US strategic partnership.

India has inked defence deals worth $18 billion with the US since 2007. In the near future, a deal worth $3 billion for 30 armed drones from the US to be used by all the three forces is likely to be signed.

Suring the Aero India show in Bengaluru last month, US Defence Attache in India, Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, had stated that the US is looking forward to enhance bilateral relations with India and also to work together to tackle evolving space threats.

She had said: "As we build out our own space force, re-establish the space command, we look forward to wide-ranging cooperation with India and the defence space agency. It is imperative that we both work together in this emerging domain as space threats evolve."

Referring to the growing Chinese assertiveness and emerging threats for the Indo-Pacific region, Laubacher had said: "Today we are seeing an increasingly provocative set of behaviour throughout the Indo-Pacific, from the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea, to India's borders high in the Himalayas. These actions threaten the norms of international conduct, the norms which India and the US uphold resolutely."